This is why international students stay (or leave) after graduating in the Netherlands

A new Nuffic study shines light on the decision-making process of international students to stay in the Netherlands after graduation. What challenges do they face and what can be done to ease their transition into the Dutch labour market?

foto van career ambassador aan bureau

The study shows that quality of life is the most important factor for international students who stay in the Netherlands after graduating. In a survey of 680 (former) students, 84 percent of the ‘stayers’ say quality of life was either ‘important’ or ‘extremely important’ in their decision to stay. This is especially true for students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), as they cited this aspect more often than those from within the EEA.

Download the full report in English ‘Staying after graduation’ (7.21 MB) and in Dutch 'Blijven na afstuderen' (7.24 MB). You can also download a short follow-up report about students/alumni with a technical field of study 'Staying after graduation: Spotlight on technical talent' (336.91 kB).

Career opportunities

Besides societal factors, professional and personal reasons play a role as well. 82 percent of the stayers indicated that career opportunities in the Netherlands were (extremely) important in their decision to stay. Work-life balance was mentioned by 77 percent of this group.

In addition, the general economic environment in the Netherlands (like job stability, working conditions, pension), a higher salary, and personal development also play key roles in the decision-making process. Personal factors also influence the decision. For example, having a partner in the Netherlands, was mentioned by 55 percent of stayers.

A broader picture

While previous research into stay rates focused on just the facts and figures, on factors for specific regions, or the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this mixed-method research paints a broader picture. It does so by interviewing and surveying students, former students, and experts from all over the Netherlands, while also including the viewpoints of international students who already left.

The question of why international students stay or leave after graduating is an important one for the Dutch government. Also, knowing the challenges international students face when making their decision, can help education institutions in formulating policy and activities as well.

Preparing international students

“I am really happy with this research”, says Karen de Man, Senior International Relations Officer at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). “As a university, it is not our primary task to increase the stay rate. But we do, however, want to prepare our international students for the Dutch labour market as well as possible.”

Research like this motivates EUR to create policies to that end. Among other things, the university aims to improve the student’s Dutch language skills by offering discounts to Dutch language courses, and it will appoint a career officer dedicated specifically to the needs of international students.

foto Karen de Man

Why leave?

Alumni who left after graduation often cite their inability to find suitable work (51 percent). Financing life in the Netherlands and not finding proper housing (both mentioned by 37 percent of respondents) were other important reasons to leave. The reason EUR wants to focus on Dutch language skills is because three out of ten students say language barriers made them more inclined to leave.

“Unfortunately, as a university, we cannot fix the Dutch housing market”, Karen says. “But we can support students in growing their Dutch network. A lack of social or professional support can be devastating when entering the labour market. That is where we see a role for ourselves, to boost contact between Dutch and international students, and to make them feel at home in the city using programmes like ‘Erasmus Verbindt’ (Erasmus Connects) and by collaborating with local student associations. I want them to become a ‘Rotterdammert’ just like myself. While we still have work to do, this research confirms that we are focusing on the right issues.”

Speaking Dutch

Five years after graduating, about a quarter of international students is still living in the Netherlands. “We know the numbers, which have been fairly constant over the past 10 years”, says Nuffic researcher Elli Thravalou. “What we did not know very well, were the reasons why they decide to stay or leave.”

What struck Elli is that students seem to underestimate the importance of speaking Dutch when they (try to) enter the Dutch labour market.

“During their studies, and when going out in cities, they get along speaking English. But if you really want to integrate into society, and work for Dutch companies, suddenly they discover that speaking Dutch makes life much easier. A lot of job offers specifically ask for Dutch language skills.”

foto Elli Thravalou

Similar challenges

Regardless of whether they decide to stay or leave, most international graduates face similar challenges. The housing shortage affects all people. And while some international students left after graduation because they had a hard time feeling at home in Dutch culture, or faced discrimination, the same applies to some stayers.

Elli: “This makes it all the more important that education institutions organise career events, offer career counselling, and enable and encourage students to grow their network and learn Dutch.”

If enough people are interested, we will organize another #study#stay#work knowledge session. If you would like to participate or have questions about this topic, please contact Bregje Wijsenbeek at

For more information, please contact Bregje Wijsenbeek via